Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Ten Commandments – 10 (out of 100) things your child needs to know before they start Confirmation Class

(This is the fourth post in an ongoing series on preparing ourchildren for the Christian rite of passage: Confirmation)

Inevitably, when I lead the discussion on sin with my confirmation students and I ask them to brainstorm a list of sins, the first sin they name is swearing/taking the Lord’s name in vain. I am not sure if it speaks to their general lack of personal experience as sinners in the world, the black and white nature of either swearing or not swearing, or the reality that teaching our kids not to swear is the last bastion of human decency that we hope to pass on to them (at least while they are still in middle school).
Maybe it is my life experience, the many layers of grey that I have discovered in my own potential for sin, or my own potty mouth that makes me chuckle each time they put swearing at the top of their list.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Remember You Are Dust

One of the high school seniors in my youth group is quick to let anyone who asks know that Ash Wednesday is her favorite worship moment of the entire church year. She is not especially fatalistic or fascinated with death; in fact she is quite hopeful and idealistic in nature. I am convinced that Ash Wednesday is her favorite worship service of the year because of something that happened almost ten years ago... she put ashes on my forehead.

If you do the math, that means she was just about 8 years old at the time. I was leading my very first Ash Wednesday service, back when I still had that new pastor smell.

I had never learned in seminary how to prepare ashes (add that to the list of about a hundred things I needed to know that I didn't learn in seminary). To be honest, since imposition of ashes was not all that common in my Presbyterian tradition I had only ever participated in three Ash Wednesday services in my whole life - my three years in seminary.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Stories of Exodus (5 out of 100 Things Your Child Needs to Know before Confirmation Class)

(This is the third post in an ongoing series on preparing our children for the Christian rite of passage: Confirmation)

Last year when my son had his best friend over for the night, I lay down with the two of them late in the evening to try to get them to go to sleep and offered to tell them a story. Totally zapped of any creative energy, I refused to invent a story off the top of my head, but instead began to tell them the story of Joseph. They had just been studying it in Sunday school for the past few weeks, so I knew it would be fresh in their minds.

I tried to be as dramatic as possible, while also struggling myself to remember some of the more detailed plot twists. In the end I got Joseph to Egypt and the rest of his family moved there as well.

 Just as they expected me to stop, I said something like “…and the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied in Egypt, and a new Pharaoh arose who did not know Joseph. This new Pharaoh was worried about all of the Israelites filling the land, so he ordered that all of the newborn Israelite boys be killed to keep them from continuing to grow. Now there was one mother who had a baby boy and hid him so that he would not be killed; she took a basket and lined it with tar…”

Well, if the point of the exercise was to get them settled down, I had just blown it. They started whooping and wailing at me, accusing me of mixing up my stories – making sure I knew that they knew that this was not the story of Joseph but instead the story of Moses and the Exodus.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pointing at the Moon

I am sure that I am not the only parent ever to have tried to point out something new and exciting to their young child, only to have the child stare attentively at their outstretched finger instead. This used to happen to me when I was driving with my son in the evening and I would try futilely to get him to look at the moon in the sky outside his window.

For Zen Buddhists, the image of pointing at the moon expresses the futility of using language to express reality. We spend our time looking at the finger, limited human language, and never get to experience the moon, the reality toward which the language points.
I would like to reclaim fingers and moons for myself, and instead consider how we as parents, when trying to teach our children to be good and giving people in the world, need to remember that while our children may see the moon we are pointing at (our beliefs, values and tradition), they also are getting a pretty good look at our finger (how we ourselves choose to live those values out).